Austin-area new car sales stalled a bit in the first half of 2016.
Sales of new vehicles were down were down 3 percent for the first six months of the year, a shift from robust increases seen in recent years, according to data from Dallas-based Freeman Auto Report, which tracks new vehicle registrations in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop, Burnet, Blanco and Caldwell counties.
In the first half of 2016, Austin-area dealers sold 61,389 new vehicles, compared with 63,270 during the same period in 2015.
Despite the sales slowdown, Mark Rowe, general manager at Henna Chevrolet in Northeast Austin, says his own dealership saw a sales increase, and he expressed optimism for the region for the rest of 2016.
“Not really (a surprise), 3 percent is not a big number,” Rowe said. “I expect we make that up the second half of the year.”
Auto sales are considered a key indicator of an area’s consumer confidence, as purchases of big-ticket items tend to indicate consumers aren’t worried about their jobs or the economy. Last year, a strong local economy and population growth fueled a record gain of 8 percent in sales.
Rowe said at his dealership, sales are up about 3 percent this year as factory incentives, low gas prices, low interest rates and local population growth are helping fuel interest.
He also said he’s seeing special interest in Chevrolet’s line of trucks, likely buoyed by the the lower gas prices as well.
This year, Austin labor and housing figures show that the region’s economy remains healthy. Austin’s job market in June posted an annual job growth rate of 4 percent and the jobless rate was 3.3 percent, down from 3.6 percent last year.
But the new car sales report was not as upbeat. The industry has posted reports of robust sales in the region in recent years, but it’s also seen signs of a slowdown.
New auto sales on an annual growth basis slowed in 2015 to 2.6 percent — down from double-digit increases just a few years ago. However, the 2015 the figures were another reminder that Austin’s economic engine was still running strong.
There have also been signs of slowing auto sales on the national level. For the first half of 2016, U.S. auto sales rose 1.5 percent, a slower pace than the 4 percent gain seen for the same period a year earlier, the Associated Press reported.
Experts said the national gain this year was boosted by a strong month of sales in June — something that wasn’t seen in Central Texas.
Last month, the Austin area saw new car sales fall 7.6 percent as dealers sold 11,552 vehicles compared to 12,505 during the same month a year ago.
But online automotive website Edmunds.com is forecasting a strong month of sales in July that will help the industry make up for the slower start to the year.
“Last year’s record-setting sales performance was powered primarily by a strong second half, and July sales suggest that 2016 is poised to play out in the same way,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds.com. “With low interest rates and a leasing market that’s stronger than ever, automakers have a great opportunity to build on last year’s burst of summer sales. The growth might not be as significant as in recent years, but it’s still growth nonetheless.”